That's among the longest sentences I've seen handed out in recent memory for Texas prison or jail guards smuggling contraband or having sex with inmates, certainly in state court. By contrast, at TDCJ prison units guards caught smuggling contraband are put on probation or fired but not prosecuted. The Houston Chronicle reported last year that:
The only comparable sentence I know of involved Montague County Sheriff Bill Keating, who ran a jail, as AP put it where "'Animal House' meets Mayberry." But it never quite materialized. He pled guilty and faced a sentence of up to ten years in the federal pen, but then died in April 2009, just weeks before a federal judge was scheduled to issue his sentence in June. Of the 11 Montague jailers indicted with Keating in that scandal, so far the stiffest penalty received has been 2 years in prison for one CO; all others so far have gotten probation.
Texas prisons are a virtual bazaar of prohibited and illicit goods smuggled in by guards and correctional employees who have rarely faced harsh punishment when caught, according to a Houston Chronicle review.
Nearly 300 employees, many lowly paid correctional officers, were reprimanded for possessing prohibited items at 20 prison units with the most pervasive contraband problem between 2003 and 2008, records show.
Of the 263 employees disciplined solely for contraband, about three-fourths (199) were given probation, where they were placed under special scrutiny for specified periods. Thirty-five were fired; 26 received no punishment at all. One of the 263 was criminally prosecuted for the contraband, but served no prison time.
A more recent case in Austin involves a Travis County jailer (and former Chattanooga, TN "police officer of the year) who has been charged with a third degree felony (2-10 years) for similar transgressions. So if there's not a lower sentence reached in a plea bargain, she could receive a sentence in that range. In the Travis County case, though, there were aggravating circumstances (the capital murderer with whom she was romantically involved was plotting to murder a guard and escape with her help).
Beyond those few, isolated cases, I've not seen many prison or jail guards getting multi-year prison terms for contraband smuggling or improper relationships with inmates, particularly given how much contraband has been found at some TDCJ units. In jurisdictions dominated economically by prisons, grand juries sometimes won't even bring charges against prison staff. So the Moore County sentence is an outlier. For the most part, Texas is extremely inconsistent with prosecution and sentencing practices on these types of cases, mostly trending on the lenient side for a state with a "tuff on crime" reputation in every other area.
Honestly, that doesn't bother me a lot; I'm more bothered by the number of guards caught with contraband who're left on the job in probationary status. I tend to think that what's needed are systems approaches - checks and balances that limit opportunities for malfeasance, getting rid of bad apple employees when they're identified - and treating most contraband smuggling as an employment matter rather than cause for prosecution. As an employment matter, though, it should result in firing and the stripping of peace officer certification, with prejudice against returning to the profession.
Obviously there are extreme cases - like whoever smuggled the handgun to an inmate who escaped during medical transport last year - where the endangerment of others justifies incarceration as punishment. But in the larger number of day-to-day cases, I'm not so sure harsher sentences are necessary as long as the CO is fired.
What do you think? Given that today the vast majority of contraband-smuggling guards never face prosecution, what is the appropriate punishment when they do? Is job termination punishment enough, or do such cases merit prison time?